This week's episode in "The Perils of the Bridge Table" might properly be termed a canard. Probably more people would recognize this word canard as meaning a hoax than know that its specific meaning in the French from which it derives is "a duck." The hand we are about to show qualifies under either meaning.
The duck is as familiar to bridge players as to ornithologists and French chefs. With a single stopper in the opponents' suit, most declarers know the value of holding it up as long as possible. More advanced players recognize the need to hold .up with a double stopper. But perhaps it is too much to expect any declarer to recognize the museum-piece rarity when it is necessary to duck with a triple stopper. The South player who held today's hand did not wake up until after he forgot to duck.
Some players will look scornfully at East's opening bid of one spade, but we have no fault to find with it. South's overcall of one no trump is routine; it announces a balanced hand of 16 points or more, with adequate protection in spades. North's raise to two no trump is fully justified. While he has only seven high-card points, his intermediate cards are worthy of note and his five-card suit is probably establishable.
West opened the spade 6 and East played the queen. South took the trick, then, naturally, started to clear the diamond suit, leading low from his own hand. West grabbed the king to lead another spade. South won and knocked out East's diamond ace. But a spade continuation removed declarer's third and last spade stopper, and the upshot was that declarer came out with only eight tricks. He took three spades, three diamonds and two clubs but, as is plain to be seen, he had no time to establish a heart trick. When East got in with the heart ace he had two good spades to cash and the contract went down a trick.
Sound analysis will no doubt point out that against a perfect defense South could not avoid incurring a loss. But he could have made matters much stickier for his adversaries.
Suppose that South, despite his three stoppers in the spade suit, had ducked the first trick, permitting East to win with his queen!
It is true that East could shift to hearts and beat the contract, even though by doing so he would present South with an extra heart trick. East must win the first diamond lead and continue hearts; West must save his king of diamonds so that he has a long heart when he gets the lead.
Neither have we overlooked the fact that a club shift by East at trick two, if followed by the perfect defense thereafter, also brings about the defeat of the contract.
But do you consider that there is any real likelihood East would make either shift? The spots in the spade suit were such that the inducement to continue spades would be well-nigh irresistible. Declarer would win and lead a diamond. Now, however, if West took the trick he would not have another spade to return. And if East won the first diamond, the result would be no better from the defensive standpoint.
Even in the upper echelons of bridge the best defense is not always forthcoming. And if South concedes the very first trick to East, we would willingly back his chances in the pari-mutuel.